Star Trek

August 5, 2009 by

Director – J.J. Abrams

Writers – Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Gene Roddenberry (TV series)

Starring – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana

Synopsis

Kind of a prequel to the TV series and other Star Trek films (as far as I know) whereby James Kirk (Pine) and Spock (Quinto) enlist at Starfleet academy and quickly gain the right to be on board the first starship – the U.S.S. Enterprise. Meanwhile the baddy, Nero (Bana), who has inadvertantly travelled back in time, is on the hunt for Spock whom he believes is responsible for the desecration of his planet. When all sorts of time travel mess occurs, the Earth itself is threatened by Nero and the U.S.S. Enterprise must take action.

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Review

First off let me say that the trailer for this movie was awesome – “Fire everything!” and while that line doesn’t quite live up to the expectations (how could it?) the film itself does not disappoint. J.J. Abrams had one hell of a job turning probably the largest cult phenomenon ever in to an accessible blockbuster but somehow he pulled it off and at all the while claiming some critical acclaim (from this critic at least); so who cares that he pissed off a bunch of sweaty nerds?

The first 15 minutes of the film are truly mesmerizing, as we start off with a David and Goliath style spaceship battle that paves the way for the rest of the movie. Abrams nails this battle sequence with excellent pace and well, its just a solid space battle.

Looking back on it, the plot itself is a little contrived with all sorts of time travel and different planets (yeah it is a sci-fi, Guy!), but Abrams manages to reign it in (for the majority of the movie anyway). This isn’t to say that the plot wasn’t enjoyable, infact it had some pretty interesting thoughts on time travel and the revenge mission of Nero gives him good depth, however the problem is there are too many characters and some of plot devices they use to introduce them are bordering on ludicrous. Also, some of the threads get lost along the way.

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Abrams’ main concerns had to be the action and getting the relationship between Kirk and Spock right. He did just that as Pine and Quinto bring new life to their characters and create an interesting tension between each other. Again, some of their character building scenes (including a crucial one) seem contrived when looking back at it, but Abrams somehow gets away with this as you are swept up in his Universe.

To sum up – Littered with problems that include major plot points; it somehow comes out smelling of roses, which I put down to Abrams’ directorial prowess and a hot alien girl in her underwear.

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Verdict – Love it

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Let The Right One In

August 5, 2009 by

Director – Tomas Alfredson

Writer – John Ajvide Lindqvist

Starring – Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Synopsis

Terrorized by bullies, lonely 12-year-old Oskar befriends a new neighbor, a mysterious young girl whose arrival coincides with a series of gruesome deaths and attacks. Though Oskar realizes that she’s a vampire, his friendship with her is stronger than his fear.

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Review

Let The Right One In showcases some brilliant acting, great emotion, comedy, gore and tension and is a fresh look at the vampire subgenre. It basically has everything you could want from a movie of this genre, yet somehow I left the cinema with a distinct feeling of emptiness.

The script is solid and full of subtleties that did not go unnoticed and shows that the writer put a lot of thought in to the ethics and psychology of the vampire and others affected by it. Another thing worth noting is that the story is a constant mover but director does not often let it stray from its track.

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Aside from all the scriptual goodness and suprisingly powerful acting from the children as well as the adults, the film is let down by its editing and inconsistency. It could have done with being 20 minutes shorter, and that isn’t to say that there was a 20 minute segment at the end of the film that should have been lopped off, but that throughout the film scenes ran on too long.

The set pieces are hit and miss, the ones missing often being the ones that rely heavily on the use of CGi. With what I imagine was a small budget I think they could have done with cutting the CGi cats out altogether.

To sum up – The tentative editing destroys the pace of what could have been a lovable movie. Not lovable, but still definitely worth a watch.

Verdict – Check it out

Watchmen

May 8, 2009 by

Director – Zack Snyder

Writers – David Hayter and Alex Tse (Screenplay), Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore (Graphic Novel)

Starring – Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode

Synopsis

“Watchmen” is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the “Doomsday Clock” – which charts the USA’s tension with the Soviet Union – is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion – a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers – Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity… but who is watching the Watchmen?”

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Review

I was as excited as the next guy to see Watchmen. One of the great novels of our time being adapted for the big screen! Oddly enough, fans didn’t seem to mind that Zack Snyder (that guy who made 300) was handling their baby and I didn’t care much either. The only reservation I had was whether I should read the novel or not. After much deliberation and an increasing time constraint, I decided to go without novel, and witness the film as is.

As an impartial viewer I can say, without hesitation, that Watchmen = balls. An utter disappointment which is wrong in so many ways that it is difficult to know where to begin. Let’s try: the script.

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Watchmen suffers from a lack of narrative. The layout of the film is not constructive; you basically have a set-up, then a 2 hour introduction to the characters with some other bits and then you get back to the task at hand. This lack of sequence not only makes the film somewhat difficult to follow, but also kills the pace. What we are left watching is a bunch of disjointed scenes that, although cool and gory and stuff; when put together, make a weak story and lifeless experience. To top it all off, when we are awarded our original narrative for managing to stay put; it turns out to be utterly deflating.

The editing can share the blame for the gormless narrative. With the running time bordering on 3 hours it is a wonder that the chopping team allowed for such a vast introduction to the character of Dr Manhattan, as well as various other scenes. Snyder wanted to stick religiously to the novel, which likely meant that he was breathing down the editor’s necks and yelling “Don’t touch that!” as they tentatively quiver their scissors over Night Owl’s basement.

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Seeing as this review is rather more extended than usual (notice how I tend to do that with films I don’t like) I will round it off with the following statements… The cinematography is great at times; the score is terrible at times and the acting is pathetic at all times, discluding Jackie Earle Haley who gets Rorschach just right.

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Overall

“You have to read the book to understand and enjoy it.” If this statement is true, then it is evident what a failure the film is.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

May 4, 2009 by

Director – Sacha Gervasi

Starring – Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow, Robb Reiner

Synopsis

At 14, best friends Robb Reiner and Lips made a pact to rock together forever. Their band, Anvil, hailed as the “demi-gods of Canadian metal,” influenced a musical generation that includes Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, despite never hitting the big time. Following a calamitous European tour, Lips and Robb, now in their fifties, set off to record their 13th album in one last attempt to fulfill their boyhood dreams.

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Review

‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil’ was always destined for greatness. Sacha Gervasi, a fan of the band, said something along the lines of “All I had to do was point the camera at them and they came up with gold” (apologies for not being able to find the original comment). After 5 minutes of Lips explaining the weekly schedule of the catering company, you know exactly what Sacha is talking about.

A!TSOA rightly focuses on Lips and Reiner, who, when together, form a Lorell-and-Hardy-esk comedy duo; minus the stunts. The dialogue is too absurd for quotes (even one of the camera men had to question Gervasi on the authenticity) but it is the timing that will have you curling over in pain. When watching the film, however, there isn’t a moment when you question what they are saying or doing; this probably due to the well constructed introductions, which quickly demonstrate what you are about to witness for the next 1.5 hours.

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Overall

A!TSOA is easily comparable to ‘Spinal Tap’ and if you found that film funny you will almost certainly feel the same way about this one. However, there is a depth to A!TSOA, as friendship, perserverence and growing up are all issues that are duly raised in this magnificent film.

Hope this one isn’t too short for everyone, I really recommend seeing it any way you can. If anyone has any questions about it feel free to ask and I will not only answer, but try to fit it in to a re-draft (as I’m so awesome). Oh, and thanks to IGN for your continued support… :/

The Class

April 1, 2009 by

Director – Laurent Cantet

Writer – Francois Begaudeau

Starring – Francois Begaudeau

Synopsis

François and his fellow teachers prepare for a new year at a high school in a tough neighborhood. Armed with the best intentions, they brace themselves to not let discouragement stop them from trying to give the best education to their students. Cultures and attitudes often clash in the classroom, a microcosm of contemporary France. As amusing and inspiring as the teenaged students can be, their difficult behavior can still jeopardize any teacher’s enthusiasm for the low-paying job. François insists on an atmosphere of respect and diligence. Neither stuffy nor severe, his extravagant frankness often takes the students by surprise. But his classroom ethics are put to the test when his students begin to challenge his methods…

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Review

Receiving numourous awards and various other nominations, including an Oscar, Francois Begaudeau’s first major screenplay was a success at festivals around the world. The Class plays out like many independent French films (ie not typically) using the structure of a school semester to build a narrative around. It focusses on students and teachers, giving a poignant look at each of their points of view; something that most of us have never been able to see first hand.

Although both sides of the classroom conflict are focussed upon, there is (intentionally) never any real intimacy with any of the characters. Even the main teacher that we follow is only ever seen as a teacher; despite a tantalising tracking shot of him vacating the building, which is cut off just before he leaves and we are left hanging, unable to enter his private life.  The lack of intimacy is reflected in the cinematography as the majority of the shots are framed in such a way (see above image) that there are foreground characters or objects that block the view of the characters in focus. We are left to attempt to understand the children from the teachers point of view and the teachers from the childrens point of view.

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From a socialogical standpoint, The Class reigns supreme. The interactions between the characters, who incidentally are mostly amateur actors, are delicately handled and intricately woven in Begaudeau’s screenplay and there is enough meat for your sociology paper to write itself. It has the burden of nye-on exact realism, partly to do with the excellent performances, which hurts itself in terms of drama. The exact things that you would expect to happen in a school, happen; so there are (SPOILER ALERT) no explosions, zombies, or cars with guns, and the characters remain so foreign that changes in friendship or other minor pieces of drama do not have the same effect as if the intimacy was there.

The humour of Begaudeau’s script, delivered masterfully by the amateur actors, breaks up the constant socialogical scrutinising and makes the film more digestible to the average audience member.

Overall – Its a novel idea, but unless you’re interested in the sociological side of the classroom this film is likely to be a 2 hour trip down memory lane.

PS Apologies for the copied & pasted synopsis; it is pretty terrible, but I couldn’t come up with another at the time. Hopefully the review section has helped to explain the narrative a little better.

Milk

March 7, 2009 by

Director – Gus Van Sant

Writer – Dustin Lance Black

Starring – Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch

Synopsis

Milk follows the life of Harvey Milk in 1970’s San Fransisco. After moving in with his boyfriend, Scott (Franco), they open a shop and start a small gay movement on a San Fransisco street. Despite the street seeming like a haven for gay people, with flocks of people migrating there, the police continue to attack and prosecute them. Harvey decides to run for city supervisor in order to grant these people the rights that they deserve and stop some bitch from passing an order that would condemn gay people everywhere.

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After his festival success with lo-fi “Paranoid Park”, Gus Van Sant gets the nod to shoot for an Oscar, with a political biopic of Harvey Milk’s life (or at least the interesting part of it). With a good lineup of supporting actors and the prominent Sean Penn as the leading man, the ingredients are there for this film to be a sure-fire success.

The film is based around the memoirs that Harvey recorded; that were to be played in the event of his death (as he wasn’t exactly the most popular figure among Republican’s in 1970’s America). This works well in terms of editing, as scenes of Harvey talking in to his tape recorder are slotted in at specific intervals. This breaks the film up, which I guess could make it easier to digest, but what I really liked about it is the juxtaposition of Harvey at his highest high to him still being well aware that his number could be up at any moment.

The character is hard not to like; Sean Penn provides the X-Factor giving him a jolt of charisma and wit, while we recognise his bravery for the actions that he takes. Sean Penn is convincing with his performance in a role that, I personally, am not used to seeing him in. He is not, however, the lone star in Milk, as Josh Brolin gives an excellent performance as Dan White – a complex character whom is seen all too little in the film. The conflict between Dan and Harvey is a delight in the film, with Dan (another politician), at times, feeling like the good guy and Harvey the bad. As stated, this relationship is not focussed on nearly enough throughout the film – I pressume it would have been a task to rearrange Harvey Milk’s history in order to make the film perfect, but you think they would have made an effort.

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In my opinion, Milk’s greatest achievement is how well the man and the movement are juggled. It would have been very easy for the film to predominantely focus on Harvey and have the whole gay movement feel crushed by his presence. Likewise I can see that the movement could have easily dominated Harvey’s story, sweeping him up in the action like a bystander in a looting frenzy. Milk manages to maintain this fine line by balancing additional characters with Harvey’s memoirs, which is a credit to the direction and editing.

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Overall – Milk achieves what it set out to and gives an inspiring message of hope to a country that needed it. It is certainly one of the better non-music related biopics of our time.

Rachel Getting Married

February 17, 2009 by

Director – Jonathan Demme

Writer – Jenny Lumet

Starring – Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mather Zickel, Bill Irwin

Synopsis

When Kym (Anne Hathaway) returns to the Buchman family home for the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt), she brings a long history of personal crisis and family conflict along with her. The wedding party’s abundant cast of friends and relations have gathered for an idyllic weekend of feasting, music and love, but Kym with her black-comic one-liners and knack for bombshell drama is a catalyst for long-simmering tensions in the family dynamic.

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Review

Rachel Getting Married is a quaint little story of family squabbles – predominantly that of the two syblings Rachel and Kym and is set around a fairytale wedding. Jonathan Demme (the director) calls it “The most beautiful home movie ever made”, which immediately makes him the biggest cock in the world.

The reason he coins it as a home movie is most likely to do with the fact that DV cameras are used (to create the style no doubt) and it is based around a home; with the feeling that a family member could be holding the camera the whole time. Yep, sounds like a home movie to me. The first hurdle Demme faced was that noone in their right mind is going to pay to watch a home movie.

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Kym’s character has enough to her for the film to not be simply looking at some families tape of the daughters wedding day. Unfortunately she is the most hateable character of all time. She is selfish, unfunny and an all round bitch (consistantly trying to steal the spotlight from the bride-to-be) and to top it off she is forgiven numourous times before reverting back to bitch mode again. Hathaway has her moments in the film and gives a good ‘larger-than-life’ performance; its just a pity we fucking hate her character. The rest of the characters are designed to relate to your family and friends in some way, so that relating to the story can be that much easier. The cast generally does a good job in acting normal.

The plot goes something like this:

Kym comes home – Squabble – Wedding stuff – Squabble – Wedding stuff – Big Squabble – Rehersal – Squabble – Wedding (where all is forgiven and forgotten). It’s pretty fickle and, at first glance, unless you’re a wedding obsessed woman or Best man without a clue; there’s little to be gained from watching this. That being said, it is only once the film is over that you can fully appreciate it. In making the characters so relatable, the film give you an outlet to reflect upon your own family and friends. This is where it really achieves, but will obviously have differing effects for each viewer.

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Overall – The most beautiful home movie ever made… but who the fuck wants to pay to watch a home movie?

Revolutionary Road

February 17, 2009 by

Director – Sam Mendes

Writers – Justin Haythe (screenplay), Richard Yates (novel)

Starring – Leonardo Di Caprio, Kate Winslet

Synopsis

April (Winslet) and Frank Wheeler (Di Caprio) are a young, thriving couple living with their two children in a Connecticut suburb in the mid-1950s. Their self-assured exterior masks a creeping frustration at their inability to feel fulfilled in their relationships or careers. Frank is mired in a well-paying but boring office job, and April is a housewife still mourning the demise of her hoped-for acting career. Determined to identify themselves as superior to the mediocre sprawl of suburbanites who surround them, they decide to move to France where they will be better able to develop their true artistic sensibilities, free of the consumerist demands of capitalist America. As their relationship deteriorates into an endless cycle of squabbling, jealousy and recriminations, their trip and their dreams of self-fulfillment are thrown into jeopardy

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Review

Anticipation – none; but the laws of physics were not on my side this night, having less than 5 minutes to get from central to Bath to central Bristol; park and walk to the cinema, there was little other option than Revolutionary Road in the Little. Of what I had heard from newspapers and word of mouth it seemed that Kate Winslet had done it again; of which I was not suprised – not of her acting being good, but that a majority of critics’ had their collective head up her ass. It seems 2009 is her year. Other than that and a vague, somewhat repulsive title (it stands as the worst of the year so far, I’m sure), I knew nothing of the film – a fresh feeling as the opening credits roll.

We are introduced to the happy couple at the inception of their relationship, with Frank’s suave and wit winning over April’s heart. All of a sudden we are around a year into their relationship and the two are at each others throats. It certainly feels fresh, but ultimately difficult to digest – like taking echinacea for the first time: its a foreign taste, but you know for sure you don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, it was necessary to have the scene where they first meet as well as swiftly moving the story to the middle years of their relationship, but the way it was carried out left me in disarray.

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Once the ugly business of the set-up is over with we get to chow down on some raw acting skills. It is a character driven plot and the actors (and director) really have to carry the film on their backs in order for it to be a success. Fortunately, Di Caprio is amazing. Predictably, Winslet gets the majority of screen time. Now that may not be matter of fact but what I do know is that the glory shots or pouty close-ups she gets remain for an extra Oscar-winning second longer. Obviously this bugged me, for loyal readers will know my views upon her; coupled with the fact that, without Di Caprio in the scene, she looks lost. I remember an early scene she shared with Kathy Bates was worthy of cringe.

The film lends itself to an appealing, if not depressing, plot: the dark side of suburban normality. However, extra characters (of whom I enjoyed the inclusion of) were slotted in at times when it seemed like something had to happen, which meant the plot struggled and it felt like it dragged out the running time too. Speaking of running time, it desperately needed the last 5 minutes sliced off at the end; a real heartbreaker as, what should have been the final 20 minutes were the strongest of the film.

Overall – A nice idea, with a great performance from Di Caprio, but ultimately the screenplay doesn’t deliver the goods.

Valkyrie

February 8, 2009 by

Director – Bryan Singer

Writer – Christopher Quarrie, Nathan Alexander

Starring – Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy

Synopsis

Valkyrie opens with Colonel Stauffenberg (Cruise) in Africa, penning in a journal his thoughts about World War II, and how he feels Hitler is destroying Germany. Stauffenberg states he took an oath to swear allegiance to Hitler, but feels he owes more to Germany. He joins an alliance of inside men who have had several unsuccessful attempts at the Füehres life. He hatches a fool-proof plan which, when successful, will cause them to inherit rule over Germany and bring peace to the world. However, a turn of events (brought on by a poorly timed bout of Summer Sun) thwarts Colonel Stauffenberg’s plan; but being stubborn and relentless he chooses to continue. Although the plan was altogether unsuccessful, resulting in most of the men losing their lives, Stauffenberg created an administrative shit-storm for the remaining Nazi’s. Based on a true story.

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Review

It may come as a shock to those of you who do not spend every waking moment watching war documentaries on Discovery, but most of the Nazi’s in Germany spoke in their native tongue – German. Those that could not would mask it by putting on a sneaky German accent and would generally not speak. However, Hollywood likes to think of this as a mistake in the Nazi’s judgement, and its latest improvement manages to blend the lesser German language (of which I am told is junk German anyway) into the superior English language in less than 30 seconds. Well, what the hell is wrong with that? is what you might be thinking; and the answer is plenty. It is generally considered that the English and American’s had a large role opposing the Nazi’s in WWII and despite never seeing the Allied’s; hearing the Axis speak like them is enough for you to take a step back from the entire film. When you hear an extra shout out in a Scottish accent you can do nothing but laugh and shake your head in bewilderment.

As a thriller, Valkyrie has its moments. Adolf Hitler is built up well and the meeting Colonel Stauffenberg has with him gives him a deserving presence. Ofcourse, we all know that Operation Walküre did not succeed, which does take some of the energy from the film; but it is more about how could the plan not succeed and how they handle it when it does not; these are the questions that Valkyrie attempts to answer. The three key scenes – the Adolf Hitler meet; the assasination attempt and the last stand are all executed correctly; creating the perfect mood for each one and putting the “thrill” into thriller (did I just say that?). However, the rest of the film is lacking, with director Bryan Singer probably choosing to build around the three set pieces. Most of Valkyrie will have you considering your seating position and whether bald people should be allowed in to cinemas.

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Tom Cruise is on top form as Colonel Stauffenberg; a character which he gives a commanding presence to, as well as giving him a madness in his relentlessness (which comes with the Cruise package). Noone else is particularly memorable (other than the Scottish guy!) with Bill Nighy playing the wimpy General Friedrich Olbricht and Kenneth Branagh as Major-General Henning v. Tresckow.

Overall – A few moments of inspired genius are thwarted by the average Tom Cruise fan not having the intelligence to read subtitles.

The Wrestler

February 3, 2009 by

Director – Darren Aronofsky

Writer – Robert D. Siegel

Starring – Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Synopsis

Back in the late ’80s, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a headlining professional wrestler. Now, twenty years later, he ekes out a living performing for handfuls of diehard wrestling fans in high school gyms and community centers around New Jersey.

Estranged from his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and unable to sustain any real relationships, Randy lives for the thrill of the show and the adoration of his fans. However, a heart attack forces him into retirement. As his sense of identity starts to slip away, he begins to evaluate the state of his life — trying to reconnect with his daughter, and striking up a blossoming romance with an exotic dancer (Marisa Tomei) who is ready to start a new life. Yet all this cannot compare to the allure of the ring and passion for his art, which threatens to pull Randy “The Ram” back into his world of wrestling.

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Review

I was eager to see Darren Aronofsky’s most recent release, after enjoying his racey breakout movie: Requim for a Dream. Also, The Wreslter looked more down to earth than The Fountain; which I missed, due to logistics – “Really, really bad” – Douglas Bubbletrousers, News of the World. So I set off, in search of a contender for the new ‘Film of the Month’ section of my blog (should I choose to do it).

After struggling to get involved for the first 10 minutes, the score arrived and I finally settled down for some hardcore watching. The script was pleasing. It didn’t try to do too much; choosing entertaining dialogue to snigger at (watch the spelling Davis!) over one-liners and set pieces. Though the screenplay was solid throughout, I do think it focussed on the wrestling over, what I thought was the more interesting side of the story, Randy’s relationship with his daughter.

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We are allowed two scenes of this “broken down piece of meat” coming to terms with what his lifestyle has done to the father/daughter relationship and what the daughter has to say about it; I don’t think the film ever really knew what side of Randy’s story to focus on: broken down wrestler; broken down dad or lonely ageing single guy. Aronofsky tries to take a slice of each one, which was just a bit too much for me to stomach.

On the positive side, all the actors held their own with a plus performance from Mickey Rourke. The scandal around Rourke’s performance made me unsure of whether I was appreciating it correctly but in hindsight Rourke nailed the character and gave him the “down-but-not-out” mentality that Randy deserved. Where realism is concerned, the casting choice for Marisa Tomei was a poor one. When the extras in the film are telling her how old and disgusting she is, whilst she strips, and the entirety of the male audience is praying not to get a boner – you know something’s up.

Handheld cameras were used for a lot of the film, for realism, I guess. This lost me a little with the inevitable jitters disrupting my viewing pleasure. Other than that, the shot selection was nice; with the final shot being the masterball of all shots – capturing you without fail.

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Overall – It’s a success, but lacks the mysterious magic ingredient that would make it a film to love.